Accountability and remedy have remained in the cross hairs of international organizations since the endorsement of the U.N. Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. Of course, the two concepts reference substantially different things. Accountability speaks to the relation between an institution and its duty (the state) or responsibility (the enterprise), or something undefined (civil society remains beyond the reach of accountability though they have assumed a central role in the UNGP framework). Remedy refers, in contrast, to the mechanics and objectives through which rights holders may seek to vindicate rights against those who bear liability for infringing those rights.
Like many framework regulations of its type, the UNGP mix the two concepts. The premise is one of necessary interrelation; one form of accounting is manifested through the remedial act; accountability posits the need for a remedial mechanism as the means through which accounts are rendered to their holders. the act of self accounting, of auto-accountability, on the other hand, is understood as the performance of risk management and the avoidance or mitigation of actions that would otherwise generate the obligation to render account to the holder of rights. "Those clusters of acts and objects are the means through which one brings another to account, but as important, they serve as the means through which one is brought to account, and the forms through which one brings oneself to account. The three are united in their fidelity to the forms of accountability, even as each points to quite distinct forms of rendering account." (Unpacking Accountability in Business and Human Rights).
This organizational typology, however, provides little by way if useful guidance in the difficult task of moving from high concept to the banal level of operational organization. There are quite accomplished actors and institutions that are now considering these issues in quite useful ways. This post takes a look at the issue of organizational typology from a different perspective, suggesting some ways in which typology may be a function of accountability and remedy. Or perhaps better put, it examines briefly the extent to which accountability and remedy may be shaped by the centering effect of typology. It considers four distinct typologies manifested within the UNGP themselves--providers, forms of structures of provision, character of grievance, and form of remedy.
5. The limits of typology. One can use typology as a methodological tool only so far. It provides an orienting point for analysis. But it carries with it a built in presumption based on the centrality of the orienting point that then permeates everything. A provider typology fixates on institutional players and the ideology/logic of institutional culture and expectations; a delivery typology fixates on self referencing mechanisms that center on the integrity of delivery mechanisms; typologies of grievance focus on contextually attached harm with little regard for administration or consistency (and except for a small functionally differentiated space) predictability; and typologies of remedies detach the object from the process of accountability. It follows that analysis loses its power tot he extent that a topological ecology is not used, one that incorporates the multiple critical typologies that in the aggregate provide the basis for thinking through authoritative systematization of accounting and remedial forms. Still, even a multi-typological framework may fail to account effectively for certain critical elements that make up the ecology of accountability and its remedial and risk management structures. These framing issues are treated next.
6. The Importance of Framing Issues: Standardization, Permanence, Steering rules, and Assessment. As a consequence--and especially in the context of non state based non judicial remedy in business and human rights--a typology based analysis tends to give short shrift to three core structural issues that tend to be marginalized. That marginalization either follows from the desire to engage in "big picture" conceptualization, or conversely, distorting "bottom up" analysis by transforming the case study into analytical paradigms.Let us consider each in turn.
A. Standardization. Much of the arc of development of business and human rights norms has constituted a project of standardization. And yet that is precisely the element that proves elusive in the analytical frameworks of accountability and remedy. Standardization promotes predictability and certainly, but at the costs of effective remedy in the specific contexts in which claims may arise. Whatever the typology, principles of standardization require development. These center of principles for framing structuring choices--single forms versus categorical division, or a rejection of standardization in favor of a purely open ended and contextual regime. Each choice will profoundly affect the logic and operation of accountability-remedial systems.
B. Institutionalization. Principles of institutionalization are necessary to create a rule of law structure for the construction and deployment of the apparatus through which accounting are rendered and remedies fashioned and executed. These include principles for the construction of institutions and the protection of its integrity. Conversely, they may focus on principles that protect the integrity of ad hoc instruments.
C. Steering Rules. Steering rules provide the institutional path for accountability and the vindication of rights. They are those principles that provide a legitimate and fair means of deciding what situations call for what sorts of mechanisms. Steering rules provide the basis for proper deployment of appropriately constructed institutional forms--and the processes attached to those forms. They are the basis for disciplining those processes through review procedures, and they serve to construct principles by which non state non judicial mechanisms can be intermeshed with state based grievance mechanisms.
D. Assessment. All of the typologies in the world, along with their framing principles are of little use in the contemporary world in the absence of self accountability (a core concept with which I began this essay). Self accounting--to render account to oneself and for others, as well as to assess the rendering of accounts and the integrity of systems, along with their alignment with the objectives to which they have been tasked--is impossible in the contemporary context without data driven metrics. That is the promise and the curse of the current age. Yet assessment is itself a normative undertaking in the sense that numbers are meaningless in the absence of the principles that give quantitative assessment meaning. Yet that is an enterprise that itself is fraught with human rights implications--from data harvesting to analytics, to the algorithms that would constitute the mechanics of disciplining accounting and remedial projects, and that itself has implications for law (e.g., here).